Summer leagues provide performance pressure-cooker for redshirt players
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Redshirting his first year on the Shocker baseball team in 2015, sophomore Josh DeBacker said he did not participate in any competitive baseball until he joined a summer baseball league after his freshman year at Wichita State.
“It was probably one of the best things I did for my career,” DeBacker said.
DeBacker left Wichita and went to Winter Park, Florida, to play in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, playing for the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs baseball team.
He said he was looking forward to getting back to playing, and Florida livened the experience.
Coaches encourage players to play summer leagues because of the skills and knowledge they can pick up in two months.
DeBacker said he started almost every game for the Diamond Dawgs.
“(Wichita State coaches) really encourage that no matter where you go, just to get in and play a lot of games and get a lot of at-bats,” DeBacker said.
DeBacker said he watched many different styles of play as he traveled around the country for games and become a better player because of it.
“We’re more focused on hitting and hitting a lot of home runs (in the Midwest),” he said. “The East is more focused on small-ball — bunting and moving a fielder over when you need to.”
In 2016, DeBacker said he went back to Florida to play again for the Diamond Dawgs.
Through his two years in Florida, he said he received recognition for his play.
One week, he received an award for hitter of the week after a game-winning hit and batting over .400 for the week.
“I was on the all-star team down there, which was a really cool experience being able to play with the best colleges in the nation,” DeBacker said.
Kansas Cannons owner Rod Stevenson said several Shocker baseball players have played for the Cannons, including Shocker baseball players Jordan Boyer and Keylan Killgore.
Stevenson said players can increase their batting averages by about three hundredths by using wood bats.
On average, summer league players will get up to 120 at-bats while playing 40 to 50 games in an average summer, he said.
Former WSU catcher, Taylor Sanagorski, joined the Cannons for summer league in 2016. Sanagorski often started as a catcher or was a designated hitter for the Cannons, earning co-MVP honors in the first annual Kansas Collegiate Baseball League All-Star game in Augusta, Kansas.
Cannons’ head coach Jake Gaul said summer league players get the chance to play with guys from all across the country.
“They develop a bond and become better men at the same time,” Gaul said.